Cadet in pole position
Sea cadet Vuyiseka Mandla can hardly sleep as the hours wind down before he embarks on the voyage of a lifetime.
The icebreaker SA Agulhas will transport a British expedition team, led by veteran explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, that hopes to make history by crossing the continent of Antarctica on foot.
Mandla, 22, is one of the 50 cadets who will be on board the Agulhas which leaves Cape Town today. The ship should reach the Antarctic in a fortnight.
"I am terribly excited and am especially interested in seeing how we are going to off-load the cargo," Mandla said.
On board the icebreaker are 1000 drums of jet fuel, two Caterpillar backhoe loaders, sledges and shipping containers.
Mandla said he was looking forward to the opportunity to take part in the trip.
"This is not something that many people get to take part in.
"People pay a lot of money to go to the Antarctic and I am going there for free."
Fiennes will lead a six-member team that will cross 4000km of ice as part of the "Coldest Journey" expedition - and the adventurers will have to endure temperatures as low as -90C.
They will be equipped with specialised breathing equipment to protect their lungs while conducting research during the journey.
The team also intends to raise $10-million for Seeing is Believing, a global charity that fights avoidable blindness.
Ndumiso Mhlongo, one of the cadets who has spent time with Fiennes and his team, said: "They are like family. We are at a level where we can talk to any one of them."
South African Maritime Authority chief operations officer Sobantu Tilayi said the expedition would serve as a fine platform from which to market South African seafarers to the rest of the world.
He added that the trip was an opportunity for the cadets to get hands-on training.
The SA Agulhas will pick up the expedition team in February 2014.
Fiennes said the team will live in shipping containers which have been converted into houses.
"I hope we will like each other because if you do not like the people you will have to go outside, where it will be -70C," said Fiennes.